Wednesday, May 19, 2021


 Greetings from my modern, well-equipped little apartment-with-a-view in the Shinagawa district of Tokyo. 

I'm in quarantine (in spite of completing my vaccination two months ago and testing negative three times in the last 6 days!) but it's not such a bad thing, since I have needed the time to get over jet-lag, review the Japanese alphabets, look up long-lost friends in the area, and to revisit the substantial flute parts for Kaija Saariaho's opera Only the Sound Remains.

Since I'm long overdue for discussing the more recent flute music of Kaija Saariaho I thought I'd begin by sharing in detail the thoughts and tips that occur to me in my daily practice here. The opera calls for all four flutes, from piccolo to bass, with the most prominent parts going to the low flutes in the first part of th opera and to the piccolo in the second part.

Bass Flute Warmups

Today I'm concentrating on the bass flute. Yesterday I reacquainted myself with the instrument with the help of Marcel Moyse's trusty exercises in de la sonorité,  particularly the second set  -- for suppleness and breath control (!) and the third set  -- for pizzicato attacks in all registers. I set my metronome at 60 and go through a complete number every time (yesterday was number 3 for the 2nd set, number 11 of the 3rd set). Today I just started out with whistle tones, first noodles around on overtones, then improvising on Harold Meltzer's beautiful Bel Canto

I find myself reminding myself that "less is more" -- less air, less "normal" flute embouchure -- to produce clearer whistle-tones. Today I was experimenting with really bringing my lips to a pucker and gently moving my tongue around inside my mouth to direct the airstream up and down. The goal for me is to remember not only the mental instructions, but also the physical sensations that bring the results I want. This is crucial, since a panorama of bass flute whistle-tones based on the low C is called for in the opening bars of the opera, creating an eery mood for the magical story of Tsunemasa, which continues with a gesture ending with more whistle-tones, this time on a low F. 

Four bars later is an interjection of one measure of piccolo (mid-register --no great embouchure pyrotechnics required here :) ) before we continue with bass flute through the end of the second movement.

 Details to follow.